We awoke to the distant sound of the Moroccan Call to Prayer blaring over a set of loudspeakers that sounded like they were tucked in somewhere deep in the neighbourhood, yet powerful enough to be heard everywhere in the medina. It was a semi-familiar sound to me. I grew up in Malaysia and I remember the Call to Prayers being broadcast on TV stations at regular intervals during the day.
The Moroccan ones differ slightly from what I recall from my childhood, the monotone voice slowly rising and falling in pitch sounding like a combination of air-raid siren, wolf call and racing cars. As if the surroundings weren't exotic enough, it just completed the immersion and really set the mood for where we were.
Muslims are expected to pray five times a day, with the first Call to Prayer commencing at dawn. If you know me, then you know that the one we heard when we woke up was not the first one of the day...
We peek our heads outside our hostel (building on the right). OMG (OMA?) it's sunny!!!
Upon leaving our hostel, we're thrust out into a brilliant, alien blue landscape. The buildings were familiar-looking, but all were painted as if to blend in with the colour of the cloudless sky above us. It was an amazing visual treat wandering around these narrow blue streets, like we were all inhabiting a shared dream.
Shopkeepers getting ready for the start of another business day
It seems like the stores open fairly late in the day. We're doing our sightseeing after a late breakfast and the store owners around the medina are still fussing around in the front of their stalls, cleaning up and setting up displays. Almost all of them are shawled in the hooded djellaba, a robe that totally reminds me of what the little Jawas wore in Star Wars, which is understandable, because George Lucas probably stole the design when he was filming in nearby Tunisia.
Daily life in Chefchaouen
More Djellaba-d storekeepers waiting for business
Although the Djellaba has its roots within the indigenous Berber culture of Northern Africa, worn as a protective garment against the sun and the wind-borne sands, today it's more of a fashion statement. I saw businessmen with djellabas over suits and ties and lots of guys wearing jeans and running shoes underneath.
Neda got pulled into this store selling soaps and spices, the aromatic waves and bright colours capturing her attention
We asked what these powders were. It's paint, used to colour the outsides of the buildings!
Moroccan herbal tea mixtures!
Neda really wants to buy something. I can sense it, and so can the storekeepers who call out to us as we walk by. She's like a butterfly that is drawn to all the bright colours of the spices, soaps and paints as if they were flowers.
I got to talking to an artist who was selling some of his captivating paintings of Chefchaouen in his gallery, and he immediately invited us in to sit down and have a mint tea. I'm starting to realize that offering tea is kind of like shaking someone's hand: "HelloHowAreYouWouldYouLikeAMintTea?" I politely declined for fear of being obligated to buy one of his paintings, beautiful as they were.
I read about the aggressive sales people here in Morocco but surprisingly the store-owners in Chefchaouen were very laid-back. We shook our heads and "No, thank you"-d a few of them as we walked by, and they smiled and nodded understandingly back at us. Good experience so far. Maybe we won't have to don the body-armor that we built up in Cuba...
A local shopper peruses the spice rack
Lunchtime! Time to try some of these much-talked-about Moroccon dishes!
While Neda is a die-hard couscous fan, I ordered the tajine which is the national dish of the country. It's a stew with any kind of meat or vegetables you want in it: chicken, beef, lamb, etc. The stew is infused with a blend of Moroccan spices, different in each city and restaurant. Each portion is slow-cooked in a clay base inside an oven or over a grill. The thing that makes it unique is a conical lid which drips condensation back into the base. They say that tajines were popular in areas where the water supply was scarce because of this water conservation over long cook-times.
Real tajine has to be cooked inside the clay dish! They say that most of the cheaper tourist places just ladle the stew from a huge pot and use the tajine clayware as a serving dish. Not real tajine! Then it's called Pho.
Having said this, the tajine that I tried was just okay. Not as flavourful as the legends of Moroccan spices made it out to be. I'll just have to keep sampling similar offerings from other places! We now have a theme for this leg of our journey: The Ta-Gene Tour of Morocco!
Our restaurant overlooks the Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the main square of the medina
The reddish-brown castle in the plaza is called a kasbah, and is perhaps the only non-blue building in the old city!
Moroccan the Kasbah
We decided to duck into the castle to get a bit of a break from all the blue surrounding us. The kasbah was a 15th century fortress used to protect high-ranking officials when the city was under siege. It's now a museum.
Deep in the bowels of the fortress
The kasbah was used by the Spanish in the 1920s to imprison the Moroccan resistance leader, Abd el-Krim
Back into the land of the blue and djellaba
I asked a few people why the buildings are all painted blue and got several responses. The painter I talked to told me that the blue was a better colour than the standard white-wash because the sun reflecting off the white gave off too much of a glare. The Internet says the buildings have been painted blue since the 1400s when Jewish refugees settled here and blue was supposed to remind them of God's power above.
Regardless, it is a visual feast and a photographer's dream! It took a very long time to finish this blog entry because I had to look through and choose from over 500 pictures I had taken in Chefchaouen!
Cats rule Chefchaouen
There are wild cats roaming everywhere in town! What is strange is the absence of any wild dogs. There is no barking at night, no packs roaming and fighting in the streets and no canine beggars at the tables in the restaurants. Just lazy felines in every doorway cleaning themselves and giving passerbys the DaFuqYouLookingAt? stare. I suspect that at some point in the city's recent history, there was a great battle between cats and dogs, and while dogs are bigger and stronger, they are dumber and cats are way more devious and evil, so all the dogs have been exiled from the city.
It's the only plausible explanation, and now that it's on the Internet, it will get quoted as a fact.
Cat is waiting for the laundry to dry so he can pull the clothes down into the dirt.
We are having such an amazing time in Morocco, so far!
We've even learned some Arabic words! Every time we pass by our parking lot, the old man that watches our bikes comes over and greets us and assures us that the motorcycles are still safe. He's super-nice and seems very paternal. We asked him to teach us some Arabic. We learned the important basics: Thank you - "Shaw-Kruhn" and some greetings - "Salam Aleikum" which we knew before, but that seemed too religious for us, so we like "Marhaban" better.
These are Moroccan tourists trying on indigenous Berber clothing.
I think that hat is typically worn by the men though! :)
More dress-up by other Moroccan tourists
Northern Morocco so far has been fairly modern outside of the medinas and not as interesting from a motorcycling perspective. I'm hoping that will change as we explore more of this country. We talked to these tourists above and found out that they were from the big city, Casablanca, and they were as enamoured of their country's culture and history as much as any other foreigner!
The real deal
Something about curiousity and cats...